It may look little different, but there’s plenty that has been changed for the 2014 Honda Ballade. That bodywork is significantly changed, for starters. And the engine, although carried over, has been subtly reprofiled for better drivability. High-tech features include, on top models, a touchscreen monitor. That feature that is said to be a first in the Ballade’s segment.
This second-generation of Ballade comes just three years after the original made a comeback on local roads. It’s no surprise that the evergreen Ballade is Honda SA’s best-selling car. Given the 2014 upgrades, there’s every reason to believe that will continue. The 2014 Ballade is roomier than the original and has even better performance and economy. It comes in two specification levels.
Although an evolution of its predecessor, the new Ballade is substantially different. Only 14 per cent of the sheet metal has been carried over. Size-wise, it is slightly longer and taller. Most of that increase is in the wheelbase. This translates into a roomier interior and sportier looks thanks to a shorter front overhang. Honda reckons that the car’s interior would not be out of place in a car one size category higher.
Access to the vast 536-litre boot is easier thanks to a wider opening and lower load sill.
The drivetrain has been upgraded to deliver more drivability and economy with lower emissions. The 1,5-litre four-cylinder unit’s outputs remain at 88 kW and 145 N.m. However, overall drivetrain efficiency has been improved by means of:
* Lower weight;
* Reduced internal friction;
* Cutting-edge tech such as variable valve timing;
* More aerodynamic bodywork.
Peak torque now comes in lower.
An alternative to the 5-speed manual is a new continually variable transmission. The CVT has seven ratios preset into its otherwise seamless operation. It is both lighter and more efficient than previous auto options. An Eco feature optimises throttle mapping, shift patterns and cruise control for more economical running.
The suspension layout is as before, with MacPherson struts up front and torsion beam at the rear. However, the front has been reconfigured to optimise damping and stability. Moving the electric power steering closer to the steering wheel is said to have improved feel and feedback.
Leading the Ballade’s substantial suite of safety features is its six airbags and Vehicle Stability Assist (VSA). There’s also a multi-angle rear-view camera. What’s particularly interesting about the camera is the ability to change the camera angle. Also on Elegance models is a 175-mm touchscreen display with tablet-like tap/swipe/pinch functionality that interfaces with the infotainment system. Speaking of interfaces, that infotainment system is fitted with an HDMI port.
A particularly nifty feature is the three power points for smartphone or mobile device charging from all four seating positions.
THE PM DRIVE
On our test route, which took in some of the Western Cape’s best driving roads, we preferred the CVT to the 5-speed manual. The manual seemed rather busy-sounding at highway speeds.
Overall, the Ballade impressed with the excellent quality of its fit and finishes. It’s a simple, no-nonsense quality ride. The pricing looks good, too.
HONDA BALLADE: JUST THE FACTS
Engine 1,5 4I
Transmission 5M, 7CVT
Outputs 88 kW/145 N.m
Economy 5,9 L/100 km (MT)
0-100 9,6 s (MT)
Price from R195 900, including 4-year/60 000 km service plan and 1-year roadside assistance